Monday, April 18, 2016

MY DAD'S SUPER-SIZED VENDETTA AGAINST KATZ'S DELI

From the mid-1960's to the mid-1970's, I accompanied my father, once a year, to the National Toy Fair, in New York City  Dad owned a juvenile furniture store and some of his vendors displayed their new items there.

At the close of each show, (at the Statler Hilton Hotel), many companies found it cost-effective to cheaply sell-off their showroom merchandise instead of packing it up and shipping it back to their corporate headquarters, (or wear ever). Dad's best supplier always reserved a chunk of this once a year privilege, to him.
THE STATLER HOTEL WAS BUILT IN 1919 ACROSS FROM MANHATTAN'S PENN STATION (AND TODAY'S MADISON SQUARE GARDEN).  IT'S NAME EVENTUALLY CHANGED TO THE STATLER -HILTON AND HAS SINCE BEEN RENAMED, HOTEL PENNSYLVANIA.

In my pre-pubescence, I had many Toy Fair adventures, (playing with toys and getting free samples). In my early teens, my father's annual bonanza lost its luster because I was put to work, (disassembling goods, packing them up and piece by piece carting it to dad's Ford Econoline).
NOVEMBER - 1961, CANARSIE BROOKLYN. THE ORIGINAL FORD ECONOLINE VAN WAS MADE FROM 1961-1967.  THIS "WAGON," (AS WE CALLED IT),  AND SIMILAR ONES IN THE FUTURE, SERVED BOTH AS DAD'S WORK VEHICLE AND FAMILY CAR. 

Our '"wagon" was not big.  So the monumental, back-breaking and tedious Toy Fair task got worse when, to fit in the last few items, we had rearrange what had already been packed. Luckily dad's artistic flair reduced the time, (I hate to imagine how long it would have taken if I was in charge).

Unfortunately, dad's artistic flair didn't always net us a parking spot at the loading dock.  Sometimes, dad parked illegally on the street.  This situation resulted in the low man on the totem pole...me...having to sit, alone for hours while rehearsing how I was going to tell a summons-happy policeman, "My father is coming right down."

I hated sitting there (and usually freezing) so bad that I actually preferred being upstairs doing the grunt work.. However as an unrelated sidebar to this story, on February 28, 1971, I was waiting for dad to come down at 1:00AM.  Across the street, a man on crutches with a cast on his leg came out of a bar.  A few seconds later, someone else poked their head out from inside and called, "Good-night Brad!"  I realized it, was New York Rangers star hockey player, Brad Park.  I abandoned my post with pen and paper and tracked down my hobbled, beloved hero.
I STILL HAVE THAT CHERISHED AUTOGRAPH.  EARLIER THAT NIGHT,  MARKED THE NHL DEBUT OF PARK'S REPLACEMENT, ANDRE "MOOSE" DUPONT...WHOSE RANGER CAREER WOULD LAST ONLY 7 GAMES BEFORE BEING TRADED TO THE ST. LOUIS BLUES.  

The route back to dad's store, (to unload the wagon, was south on Second Avenue, a left onto Houston Street, over to Delancey Street, to the Williamsburg Bridge.  By this time of the night whatever dinner I had was long forgotten.  So on each sojourn home as my husky-sized belly whined for a refill, we'd pass Katz's Delicatessen, (on earlier trips, sometimes they were still open).
A NEW YORK CITY LANDMARK, KATZ'S DELI AT 205 E HOUSTON STREET (CORNER OF LUDLOW STREET) HAS BEEN OPEN SINCE 1888. 

Once, to satisfy my hunger, I asked (begged) dad to stop.  My father probably didn't relish getting home at 3;00AM so stopping for a bite, in a sketchy part of town with valuable cargo was out of the question. To deflect my request, dad went into a detailed explanation of why Katz's was a terrible place to eat, (I'm sure as soon as he said "no" I went into pouting-mode and tuned-out his rant.  That's why I don't recall any specifics).
HAWAII, JANUARY 1975.  DAD WAS ALWAYS A SKINNY GUY.  MY MOM USED TO SAY , "HE ATE LIKE A BIRD."  THEREFORE HE WAS PARTICULAR ABOUT HIS MEALS AND HOW THEY WERE SERVED.  SO PERHAPS HIS DISLIKE FOR KATZ'S WAS REAL ON THAT LEVEL?

At some point in the 1970's, the prices at New York's kosher delicatessens skyrocketed.  Coupled with changing neighborhoods, the higher prices caused many delis to go out of business.  To combat this trend, most of the remaining restaurants found it prudent to go to "kosher-style" menus.  The result (to me) was an increasingly difficult task of finding my favorites, the way I liked it.

In January 1979, I moved to Las Vegas.  By the time I moved back home (Canarsie Brooklyn, in 1984), even the kosher-style delis had become nearly extinct.

Fortunately, Grabstein's ,the delicatessen a few streets from home was still there and still good.  But later that year after my wife Sue and I permanently moved to south Jersey, all my favorite deli delectables became a thing of the past...often imitated...but never duplicated.

A few months back, my long dormant desire for real deli food was rekindled by  a credit card commercial, filmed inside Katz's.  I realized that my father hated the place.  So I assumed he was wrong and fantasized about the glory of perceived sweet ambrosia for stomach and soul.

Coincidentally, right after seeing that advertisement, my sister called from out of town and said she was bringing my three great-nephews to New York City.  After we figured out a time and place to meet, that could include my son Andrew, she suggested dinner at Katz's.
APRIL 8, 2016 AT THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY,  ANDREW WITH HARRY (8), BARRY (6) AND GARY (5).

From the museum, during our drive downtown, we googled Katz's menu.  I decided on a hot, corned beef sandwich slathered with spicy mustard and stuffed with sauerkraut with a potato knish and a Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray.
DR. BROWN'S CEL-RAY, (aka JEWISH CHAMPAGNE), IS A GOLDEN, CELERY-FLAVORED *SODA POP (TONIC).  IT ORIGINATED (1869), IN MANHATTAN.  TODAY, YOU NEED TO KNOW WHERE TO LOOK, TO GET IT IN THE CITY, (AND HARDER IN PHILADELPHIA OR SOUTH FLORIDA...ANYWHERE ELSE, IT'S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND).

* EDITOR'S NOTE. - Since my hernia surgery, (February 1, 2016), I have weaned myself from a 40-can/week addiction to Diet Cherry Pepsi and other sodas. Coupled with avoiding carbohydrates, I feel less bloated while losing twelve pounds. So at Katz's, I looked forward to risking the empty calories and my positive progress for the sake of non-dietetic Cel-Ray, a knish and rye bread.

Sue opted for Katz's famous pastrami, fries, an order of cole slaw and a Dr. Brown's Creme soda. Andrew wanted roast beef with tomatoes and mayonnaise.  Sue and I then tried to talk him down from the strawberry thick shake he wanted...after binding arbitration with his uncle, (my brother-in-law), my boy settled out of court for an orange soda.

Katz's was a throwback restaurant.  That's nice way of saying, the atmosphere sucked...but we knew that ahead of time, as well as the staff's reputation for being theatrically cranky.
(STOCK PHOTO).  THIS SHOT IS A FAIR REPRESENTATION OF THE BUSYNESS WE ENCOUNTERED. HOWEVER, ON THE FAR RIGHT, THE SIX "CUTTING STATIONS" HAD LINES OF PEOPLE WAITING FOR THEIR SANDWICHES THAT EXTENDED BETWEEN THE TABLES.

My sister found a table us.  She sat with her three grandson's directly behind the man (above), standing with the cap.  Just as I feared, the folks on those lines surrounded my sister and the kids. Luckily, I ran to the restroom.  Unseen in this photo, I discovered a more private alcove in the back, (to the right).  At first, sis didn't want to up-root Harry, Barry and Gary...but in doing so, she saved us from the claustrophobic feeling of being enveloped by strangers, having our conversations nullified by leering, loud talkers and the unappetizing threat of getting our seats jostled.

Oy!  Soon, my problems with this so-called holy shrine to delis really started when I saw the cutter making my sandwich from a huge hunk of meat (corned beef) that obviously had been sitting on his counter for a while.  I also didn't like that the cutter was not using a machine to slice the meat. Instead, he cut-up long, thick slabs.

My perception of old school delicatessens is that the meats are stored in stainless steel steamers until needed. Like a fine artisan, each hot sandwich is prepared to perfection.  However, Katz's was more like an assembly-line where speed (and size) trumps quality.

Part of the gimmick is for the cutters, to offer you a sampling.  Ugh!  The "fresh" meat was misshaped, cold and tasteless.  I must have been out of my mind with starvation because I rationalized (WRONGLY) that the sum of the pieces would be greater than an individual piece.

Later, I reflected on my corned beef and concluded that the texture should have been grainy yet moist, not smooth and slimy.  I thought that perhaps the evolution of kosher delicatessens included synthetic meats. Certainly, smooth, slimy-surfaced corned beef felt wrong. Maybe Katz's fanciers forgot what was the gold standard for meats once was... and now accept inferior facsimiles that feel like cold, tasteless plastic in your mouth. Of course in defense of my father, it's possible Katz's was never good?

The result was a gargantuan, super-sized sandwich that cost $19.00, (later I joked, they probably use 20% more meat so they can kick you in your nut-sack, by doubling the price).  It's only fair to say, that as disappointing as it was, I indeed ate (half), my sandwich that included cold, tasteless sauerkraut, topped with unimpressive, unspicy, brown mustard, ( I could have finished the whole thing...but I didn't want to).

On the positive side, My knish was warm (not hot) and the inside was close to being soft enough but not quite, (still I did actually liked it).  The true highlight of my epicurean "delight" was a free, generous supply of delicious, (to die for), sour pickles.  And I loved every ounce of my Cel-Ray.
THE BEST PART OF OUR TRIP TO KATZ'S WAS OUR FAMILY SOCIALIZING, IN THE FAR MORE COMFY ALCOVE.  (above), A BRUTISH MAN IN NEED OF A SHAVE WEARING A BLOND WIG, A RED DRESS AND MATCHING PUMPS, VOLUNTEERED TO TAKE THIS SNAPSHOT.  IF YOU SQUINT, YOU'LL SEE SUE, ANDREW, MY SISTER AND I ALL LEFT OVER HALF A SANDWICH.


Another nice touch is, the collection neon signs and printed slogans throughout Katz's.

(STOCK PHOTO)  MY FAVORITE WAS THIS SIGN, BECAUSE IT WAS CUTE AND SENT A PATRIOTIC MESSAGE. 

The collection of celebrity customer photos that lined the walls was also a big plus.

BEHIND ME, I SAW RICHARD SIMMONS' PHOTO...SPEAKING OF DIETS,  HE'S THE LAST GUY YOU'D EXPECT TO SEE EATING THERE.  MY FRIEND ERNIE AT ESA ENTERTAINMENT HAS BEEN PRODUCING SIMMONS' 'WORK-OUT VIDEOS FOR YEARS.  INTERESTINGLY,  HOW FORGOTTEN IS ELLIOTT GOULD?   HIS WAS THE ONLY PIC I NOTICED THAT INCLUDED A LABEL WITH HIS NAME. 

Katz's has been around for over 125 years, so I'm certain, they don't give a rat's ass how shitty I thought their hallmark sandwiches were. But this review gets worse.  If the quality of their meats weren't bad enough, instead of a standard check, your bill is tabulated onto their trademark ticket. This ticket (slightly larger than an old-fashioned movie theater ticket), will have everything you order hand-coded onto the back.

On the way out, with their ticket ready, hordes of satisfied diners (as well as the dissatisfied) are funneled onto a line to the cash register.  Like bomb-sniffing TSA dogs, each out-going person is scrutinized as they advance. At the door, ill-tempered, gestapo-like bouncers watch the queue and wait for criminal-minded schmucks to try running out without paying. After I saw that my dinner for three was $102.00, I had to wonder if management compelled creative cutters, (by providing a bounty), to inflate their scribbled charges. I was so pissed by the my final tab that conservative little old me I pondered a, "dine and dash."  How bad could a $102.00 beating be?

When you add-up the low-quality meats, the rush-hour subway platform ambiance and lofty prices, Katz's is a once in a lifetime, poor choice.
BACK IN THE FRESH AIR OF LOWER MANHATTAN, THE ONLY REASON I COULD SMILE THROUGH MY MOLTEN AGITA WAS THAT I GOT A MONDO BOFFO PARKING SPACE, INSPIRED BY THE PATRON SAINT OF PARKING SPOTS  "JOE VANILLA."

We got to my car with four doggie bags. My sister didn't have a refrigerator in her hotel room and Andrew disliked his sandwich so much that I wound up with their half sandwiches as well as Sue's and mine. For lunch the next day, I threw away the rye bread and microwaved, the corned beef, pastrami, roast beef and sis's turkey, (luckily Andrew didn't poison his uneaten half with mayonnaise but I did have to peel away the tomatoes).  To improve the situation, I used my old reliable Gulden's mustard, (for the pastrami and corned beef).  Sorry Katz's...even though they were properly heated, all four still were still tasteless...except for the mustard.
GRABSTEIN'S OF CANARSIE IS LONG GONE.  IT HAS BEEN REPLACED BY A CHINESE TAKE-OUT.  BUT I BET YOU CAN STILL GET A BETTER PIECE OF ORIENTAL-STYLE CORNED BEEF THERE THAN YOU CAN GET AT KATZ'S.

It's puzzling how Katz's fool the informed masses with their hype?  But the harsh reality was those four supposedly distinct flavors should never have tasted the same...but they did.  In protest, I made those leftovers what they truly were destined to be...doggie bags. So I fed them to my puppy, Roxy.
TO SUPPORT HER GRANDFATHER, ROXY (above) WEARS ANDREW'S, "HASKELL HAT."  THEN SHE ENCOURAGED ME TO GO BACK TO KATZ'S AND BRING HOME MORE SUPER-SIZED DOG FOOD.

Somewhere up in heaven, my dad's luxuriating over an extra lean pastrami sandwich and saying to my mom, "Vendetta, schmendetta, our little vonce (me), could've saved time, money and energy if he just took my word for it! And my word for Katz's is, FEH!"

8 comments:

Charlieopera said...

Oh, man, say it ain't so! When I was living in Little Italy (not far from Katz), I used to take my brats there for Sunday lunch/brunch after our basketball games in the Chrystie Street park. I LOVED Katz most of the years I lived there ... Ann Marie and I once had dinner at The Palm Too, then picked up Katz deli on the way home (why I'm 5,000 pounds, no doubt), but did you at least enjoy the "Send a Salami to your boy in the Army" sign?

Anonymous said...

Too funny! Always listen to dad. --- VICSON

Anonymous said...

This morning I read, "MY DADS SUPER-SIZED VENDETTA AGAINST KATZS DELI." Damn youre so right, that place and its kosher style delicacies are overrated. --- FARNSWORTH

Anonymous said...

Loved the Katz Deli blog. Great get on the Brad Park autograph at an ungodly hour. My cousin George was 83 and on his death bed in Brooklyn a couple of summers back. I went visti him and on my way into NYC I called to see if he wanted something to eat. He asked for a pastrami sandwich from Katz Deli. Since I had just crossed the Verrazano Bridge when I called him, I asked if a sandwich from a deli in Brooklyn would work (Junior's came to mind since it was right down the block from the hospital) but George insisted on a Katz pastrami sandwich and I wasn't about to deny a dying man a last wish. I parked my car near the hospital and took the F train to pick up the sandwiches. $40.00 bucks later and after eating the sandwiches at the hospital I thought "what an over-hyped place!" Grabstein's or even King Arthur's had a much better sandwich back in the day. Your dad was spot on! --- SKIP

Anonymous said...

Next time you guys are in beautiful downtown Burbank, they have quite the authentic Jew-Food joint there. Its called Arts Deli...or as my Bostonian mudderinlaw would say, ...Ahhhhts Deli --- EVELPEETEY

Anonymous said...

I am from Bayonne. So I went into the city tons of times especially lower Manhattan. I thought I ate in every kind of restaurant...but I missed the boat on kosher delis. What I learned from your article is, when Im ready, dont go to Katzs. Your pops must have been a wise man. --- DTRUMPET

Anonymous said...

Dad was right about Katz's but they have great salami. --- TICKLEMEERIC Plainview LI

Anonymous said...

I make a pilgrimage to Katzs each trip to NYC. Now that my daughter is married and living in Astoria, the trips are more frequent. My next visit we be in late June.

We definitely had different dining experiences. I love Katzs. The huge hunk of meat is always warm and well flavored. I enjoy the magic of pastrami on rye with their mustard which I generously apply to each sandwich. I add potato salad and Cole slaw and devour many of their pickles generously left in bowls on each table. I can taste my next pastrami sandwich and I still have two months to go. Riding the subway there is part of the charm. No wonder they have been there for over 125 years. No need to reinvent the wheel, this one works quite well! --- SLW